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Experience Plus - Bicycle Tours since 1972

Around the World in 80 Days

by Rick Price - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 reviews

A Review of Jules Verne’s book, Around the World in Eighty Days (1873), and a brief mention of Michael Todd’s film of the same title (1956, Michael Anderson, Director)

Around the World in 80 Days - DVD coverIt took three eccentrics to make Jules Verne’s book possible in 1873 and it took a showman on the order of P.T. Barnum to turn it into one of the first and finest travelogues for film in 1956. I vaguely recall seeing the movie sometime around 1960. I must have been ten or eleven. I’m convinced that between Michael Todd’s rendition of “Around the world in Eighty Days,” and Lowell Thomas’s 1950s television series, “High Adventure,” the seeds of my personal wanderlust were sown.

The three eccentrics who made Verne’s book possible in the 1870s were George Francis Train, George Bradshaw, and Jules Verne himself. We’ll start with Train and Bradshaw:

George Francis Train was an American businessman who claims to have been the “original” Phileas Fogg, the eccentric British character created by Verne to undertake his extraordinary voyage around the world. George Bradshaw was the British map-maker and publisher who, in the late 1830s and 1840s began to publish “Bradshaw’s Monthly Railway Guide,” of Britain’s rail network, and in 1847, the first “Continental Railway Guide” for travel throughout Europe.

With a “Bradshaw” in his pocket, someone like Train was able to undertake a round-the-world voyage with precision timing, much as Phileas Fogg was to do under the steady guidance of Jules Verne who, though he had sailed the seas of Europe, never set foot outside of Europe. Train, on the other hand, was a Boston merchant who had traveled widely by 1860 and who, on August 1, 1870 set sail from San Francisco to Yokohama intent on traveling by steam train and steamship around the globe in less than eighty days.

Train made it to Europe, arriving in Marseille, by October 20, 1870, eighty-one days after leaving San Francisco. Adventurer that he was, Train landed in France in the middle of the Franco-Prussian war and the collapse of Second Empire under Napoleon III. He was thrown in prison for a time in Lyon for inciting revolution before being able to continue his journey to Paris, London and New York, arriving back in San Francisco several weeks after his eighty-day deadline.

The connection between Train’s trip around the world and the famous Jules Verne novel which was published two years later has not been fully documented, I don’t believe. But it seems likely that Verne was influenced by Train’s journey especially since both Train and Verne had a common French friend in Alexander Dumas, the French novelist.

The example and fame of Verne’s Phileas Fogg encouraged Train to undertake two more voyages around the world. His last, in 1890, was spurred on by his jealousy of Nellie Bly, a journalist sent on a round-the-world trip by the New York World, in 1889/90. Bly completed her trip in seventy-two days so Train retaliated with an 1890 trip that took him sixty-seven and a half days, an extraordinary feat in that period.

These fast trips around the world were made possible by steam power. Of course steam power had been under development for over a century. By the 1850s railroads were maturing and spreading throughout the world, and side-wheel paddle steamers, mostly river boats, were widespread. By 1870, when George Francis Train undertook his first voyage, the paddle-wheel driven riverboat was replaced by the propeller driven steamship on the high seas. Efficiencies in the steam engine itself made ocean-going vessels safe and fast.

Further events that made these fast trips possible included the completion of the transcontinental railroad in the United States. On May 10, 1869 the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads were completed with the famous Golden Spike driven in Promontory Summit, Utah Territory to celebrate the new transcontinental railroad. When news of this reached Europe, people like Train and Verne began their imaginary voyages around the world. When in 1872 the final link in the Great Indian Peninsula Railway from Bombay to Calcutta was completed, Verne’s journey was possible.

Jules Verne certainly didn’t lack for imagination. Born in 1828, he literally grew up with Europe’s railroads, a child of the Industrial Revolution, you might say. By 1841 Thomas Cook became the first tour operator to run a group railroad excursion in Britain (for temperance campaigners, in fact, headed to a temperance meeting!) Surely the French papers would have picked this up, though whether 13-year old Verne would have read about it is questionable. But certainly the budding writer would have been aware of Cook’s first group railroad excursion abroad to the Paris Expo in 1855 and eventually to Switzerland in 1863.

Verne’s first travel book was Five Weeks in a Balloon, published in 1863 (certainly rail travel was much too tame for Verne at the time!) Surprisingly Verne did not include travel by balloon in Around the World in 80 Days. It was Michael Todd, the eccentric Broadway and Hollywood producer who could not resist inserting the hot air balloon scenes in the movie version of Around the World in 1956. Todd was a showman and while he was extremely true to Verne’s original text, he took just a few liberties by adding an adventurous balloon trip from Paris to Spain, flamenco dancing and a bullfight, to name just a few of his additions.

As Jules Verne sat down to block out his round-the-world trip for Phileas Fogg in the winter of 1871-72 (the imaginary trip took place in the fall of 1872) he would have had his globe, his maps of Europe and of the British Empire – namely Egypt, India, Hong Kong, and the former colony of the United States. And he would have had his “Bradshaw,” THE guide to railway timetables of the world. He also would have made use of reports from British and French newspapers of other adventurers who had recently made the journey or parts of it from the vast British Empire.

As I sit here in my Colorado office at the edge of the Great Plains I have at my disposal my globe, still quite useful, and the internet. What more could one need? Kayak.com (or Orbitz, or Travelocity, or BootsnAll) seem to be all I need to calculate the fastest route around the globe. Most interesting about this entire exercise today is that it seems impossible to travel the world, as Phileas Fogg, by steamship and train in eighty days. You might find some passenger ships but finding the quick connections between them seems impossible in the 21st century.

When Phileas Fogg undertook his challenge he had but one choice of route to achieve his goal of traveling around the world in precisely 80 days. It involved a series of connections among steamships and trains and allowed for only the slightest of delays. Today, Kayak.com gives me 509 flight combinations departing London for Tokyo and returning. Of course, that is only half-way around the world – and back (NOT fully ’round the world), using the polar route from Europe to Tokyo.

Fogg took (or was supposed to take as there were some slight variations en route) the following route:

Ferry and Rail: London to Suez via Mont Cenis and Brindisi 7 days
Steamship: Suez to Bombay 13 days
Rail: Bombay to Calcutta 3 days
Steamship: Calcutta to Hong Kong 13 days
Steamship: Hong Kong to Yokohama 6 days
Steamship: Yokohama to San Francisco 22 days
Rail: San Francisco to New York 7 days
Steamship & Rail: New York to London 9 days
Total travel time: 80 days

To replicate this trip today your flight itinerary would look something as follows: London, Bombay, Hong Kong, San Francisco and back to London. I found an itinerary on Kayak.com that completed this route in only 28 hours and 15 minutes at a cost of $4,817. This cuts Jules Verne’s 80 days (1920 hours) by 98.5%.

Here you can compare my imaginary itinerary with that of Phileas Fogg.
For only $4817, in 2007 you could fly:

Fri 1 Jun 2007 – Flight number 345
London Heathrow 6/01 6:15a to Bombay 6/01 9:40p
10 hrs. 55 min.
Fri 1 Jun 2007 – Thai Airways 318
Bombay 6/01 11:25p to Hong Kong 6/02 11:45a
9 hrs. 50 min.
Sat 2 Jun 2007 – Air Canada 8
Hong Kong 6/02 12:45p to San Francisco 6/02 3:15p
17 hr. 30 min.
Sat 2 Jun 2007 – Continental 8240
San Francisco 6/02 4:30p to London Heathrow 6/03 10:30a
10 hr. 0 min.

If you are observant, you will notice that this flight involves something between 48 and 49 hours of travel. Yet my calculation above indicates only 28 hours and 15 minutes. Within this discrepancy lies Verne’s secret ending to his wonderful book. I’m afraid you’ll have to read it (or reread it) to find out what how long that trip really takes!

The round-the-world travels of Train, Bly and the fictional Phileas Fogg spurred the 19th century imaginations of everyone, including those who could travel and those limited to armchair travel. The bicycle emerged as a viable means of transportation within a decade or two of the publication of Around the World in 80 Days. By 1884 Thomas Stevens undertook to ride around the world on his Columbia high wheel (penny farthing) bicycle. And in 1893-94 Annie Cohen Kopchovsky (AKA Annie Londonderry) became the first woman to embark on a ’round-the-world bicycle ride.

The automobile changed all of this at the turn of the 20th century. Within 50 years, two world wars had been fought, a worldwide economic depression occurred and commercial air travel debuted. Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days was nearly forgotten. Then, along came Michael Todd and the film version of Around the World. With the help of David Niven, Robert Morley, Noel Coward, Shirley MacLane, John Gielgud, Buster Keaton, Peter Lorre, and a list of illustrious actors that goes on and on, Todd ignited the traveling public’s urge to travel. Arthur Frommer’s Europe on Five Dollars a Day fueled the fire and the baby boom generation began to discover the world.

(Planning a round-the-world trip? Try the BootsnAll Travel Network at http://www.bootsnall.com/ . They have a fascinating tool that allows you to construct a round-the-world itinerary.)

Rick Price - Rick Price, and his wife, Paola Malpezzi Price, founded Bike Across Italy in 1972, Italian Specialty Tours, Inc. in 1985 and ExperiencePlus! Specialty Tours, Inc. in 1993, though they sold the latter over to their daughters Monica and Maria Elena in 2008. Rick holds a Ph.D. in Geography and has designed bike tours all over the world. Finally, in 2009 he realized a lifelong dream of becoming a certified “League Cycling Instructor,” with the League of American Bicyclists. He is now Safe Cycling Coordinator for the Bike Co-op in Fort Collins, Colorado where he also writes a monthly column on Smart Cycling for the Fort Collins, Coloradoan. If you would like to contact Rick or Paola you can e-mail them at Rick(a)ExperiencePlus.com.